Raised in West Aliquippa, studied flute and piccolo, took lessons from Max Adkins, a Pittsburgh concertmaster and jazz fan. Fellow students were the great Billy Strayhorn and Jerry Fielding. Adkins introduced him to Benny Goodman as a potential arranger for Goodman's band. After graduating from high school, attended Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) and Juilliard in New York City. Goodman offered him a job and after serving in WWII he joined the rearranged Miller band. In 1952 was given a two-week assignment at Universal to work on an Abbott and Costello film and ended up staying for six years.
Success with The Glenn Miller Story allowed him to score other films and helped change the style of film background music by injecting jazz into the traditional orchestral arrangements of the 1950s. Was nominated for 18 Oscars and won four; in addition, won 20 Grammys and 2 Emmys, made over 50 albums and had 500 works published. Collaborated extensively with Blake Edwards - firstly on TV's Peter Gunn, then on Breakfast at Tiffany's which won him two Oscars; won more Oscars for the titles song for Days Of Wine and Roses and the score for Victor/Victoria. Best remembered for the title theme from the The Pink Panther.